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I really don’t mean to whine in this post and I hope it doesn’t come across complaining. I have simply been pondering the question of what it is about parenting that makes it so hard. Children are a delight, surely? Shouldn’t they bring me joy, fulfilment, and aren’t they fun to be with? With all the tragedies reported in the media recently, my thoughts have turned to my relationship with my offspring, to that moment when you think “What really is the most important to me? When it’s a life and death situation?” Loud and clear, it is my family – not my career, not myself even, but my two children and my husband. If I could ensure they were safe, happy and healthy, and if I could see them every day, I have everything I need. And yet, I find myself longing for some time to myself; when it is approaching 9pm and we are struggling to get either child to go to bed (what is with that recently?) that is when I begin to fantasise about spending a night alone in a hotel room.

So what is it that makes being a parent so hard? Why do we get together to commiserate, why do we call it “crazy”, and why do we respond with “Oh God, No!” when well-meaning friends ask if we have plans to expand the family? This thought of mine is backed up by evidence from rigorous studies that show that parents report less moment-to-moment happiness than non-parents, but a greater sense of meaning overall. Yep, that’s me.

Well, sometimes it comes down to this. Kids can behave in ways that melt your heart. They give the best cuddles, they insist on holding your hand, they like dancing, they say funny and endearing things. They can be unbelievably sweet to their siblings. Sometimes they will eat something that you have botched up at dinner, something almost inedible, and they will say “Yum it’s so delicious, Mummy! Can I have more please!” (This is a true story. It happened just last night).

My days are peppered generously with sunny moments like these, like when my son first wakes and only wants to sit on my lap for ten minutes. I have a long, indulgent cuddle with him, and spend the ten minutes just inhaling the top of his head. (He smells amazing. Don’t all small children?) Then he toddles off to start the day and cuddles are fairly few and far between after that from my little dynamo.

Here’s the rub. This behaviour is by no means constant. There are all those moments in between, such as:

• the tantrum over being given Vegemite on toast instead of honey
• refusing to eat anything apart from processed cheese
• hitting, biting and scratching when they don’t get their way
• assuming “The Rod” position when they are supposed to be buckled into the stroller or car seat (see cartoon below if you are not familiar with this position)
• saying things like “Then I won’t be your friend!” or “You can’t come to my house any more” (something I actually find quite hilarious) when I tell her she cannot have a cookie before dinner, or that she has to have a shower
• sibling fights
• refusing to brush teeth, get changed, get into the shower, get into pyjamas, get into bed
• throwing a nutritionally balanced, lovingly cooked meal on the floor
• wriggling around during a nappy change
• whining

The fact is, children are human, and they are not meant to provide us with constant amusement, entertainment, and joy. (Wouldn’t it be such pressure on them if this was the case!) Children get tired and hungry; they have poor control over their impulses and emotions; they deal badly with frustration; they do not appreciate nutrition, hygiene and keeping to a schedule the way we do. They are only children, after all. We are in charge of raising them to be well-mannered, considerate adults who still have all their teeth and can keep appointments. This is often in direct conflict with what children really want to do.

I read an article today (I actually Googled “Why Is It So Hard To Raise Kids”) which really hit the nail on the head. A paragraph reads:

All this makes sense from a historical perspective, the scientists point out: In an earlier time, kids actually had economic value; they worked on farms or brought home paychecks, and they didn’t cost that much. Not coincidentally, emotional relationships between parents and children were less affectionate back then — and childhood was much less sentimentalized. Paradoxically, as the value of children has diminished, and the costs have escalated, the belief that parenthood is emotionally rewarding has gained currency. In that sense, the myth of parental joy is a modern psychological phenomenon.

And yet, I cannot deny that I do derive an indescribable satisfaction from raising my children, and cannot imagine my life without them. They are and always will be the most important parts of my life. I have long moved beyond suffering intense guilt from not always enjoying my children, but I continue to reshape the way I think about this parenting journey. It’s hard, raising children, the hardest thing in the world. But the events of this week, with the shooting of innocent parents and schoolchildren, has made me hold my children even closer, almost suffocatingly so, when I see them again. Because I’m so damn lucky to have them and have this day with them. Even days when my son is doing The Rod in the car seat.

http://ridingcoastal.com/tag/car-seat-cartoon/
http://ridingcoastal.com/tag/car-seat-cartoon/

 

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When I was little, I wanted to be a poet. I wrote very bad poems (one was an ode to a petunia, from memory), and even worse poems when I was a teenager. Poetry escaped me once I entered the pragmatic world of medicine, and even more when I became a mother. Yet there is something inescapably poetic about motherhood, or the experience of being a parent overall. There are many times when I experience moments of what could only be described as bliss with my children, and this seems to be magic, or at least, art.

I found a handful of sentimental poems on my laptop, written when my first child was a young toddler. I’m sharing this one with you, as it’s especially poignant today as I nurse a sick toddler, her younger brother. There is something about toddlers that I love – something sweet and free, and I have written about this previously. In amongst the grating tantrums and whining is something that makes every parent wistful, pensive, and pause a little in their busy day, knowing that this is the stuff that memories are made of. I wish I could bottle it so that we could just sniff it in our old age. But perhaps I shall write poems about it instead.

Bittersweet

I’ve never loved anyone quite the way I have loved you.

You give all of yourself to life, and ask for so little –

a cup of Milo, to play with the recycling, to climb the sofa over and over again.

In the cosy mornings, as I make us both porridge,

as I see you in your highchair with your bib on and spoon at the ready,

I have a moment of profound completeness,

a sense of experiencing a brief flicker of the purest beauty,

tenuous and leaving the tiniest ache

which reminds me that one day all these too will be memories.

 

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I don’t know if you were the child’s father; you could have been his step-father, uncle, or nanny. But I’m going with the most likely thing.

You were pushing your toddler son on the swing when we came in. You saw a mum and her two preschoolers. My daughter got on the only remaining empty swing and my son, a toddler too, started to fuss. Normal sibling behaviour. I’m so used to their fights and wasn’t the least bit concerned, but I saw you look at us and immediately you said those brave and inflammatory words to your toddler. I shudder even now when I think of the horror that comes with that phrase.

“How about you give someone else a turn now?”

*shiver*

Predictably, your toddler said NO! NO! NO! You then tried to explain why he should give someone a turn, but the NO’s got louder. So you took him out of the swing and tried to distract him on another piece of playground equipment but he was having a minor tantrum by then. (I say minor because my son has been having tantrums that are worthy of an Oscar, and your son’s tantrum was definitely minor in comparison). My daughter had agreed to give her brother a turn, and had run off somewhere else, and I tried to tell you to put your son back on the swing. But you marched off with him, and we heard the whining and complaining get softer and fade away as you disappeared around the corner.

I wanted to say thank you for doing what you did for us today. You didn’t have to – you could have pretended you hadnt noticed we were there, or that a sibling fight was breaking out. There are no playground rules, just an honour system. But you chose to risk a toddler tantrum. You chose to break the relative peace of your day because you clearly wanted to teach your child to share, to take turns, to be mindful of others. It’s something that nobody tells you about – the anxiety of playgrounds. A parent pushing their child on a swing – what could seem more carefree than that? Yet behind this apparently blissful facade is the nervousness about needing to teach an underlying set of values. Sharing. Not being violent with other children (I was the nervous mum when my son got off the swing, as he started playing near another toddler and I was hoping he wouldn’t push or shove the other little boy).

Empathy for others. Being unselfish. Having boundaries. Patience. I was all ready to teach my son yet another lesson in patience, and then my daughter a lesson in sharing with that swing. But I didn’t need to.

I saw your face as you left. You looked worried, cross, irritated. Maybe you were tired of the umpteenth tantrum that day. Maybe you were worried that your son was never going to be able to share. (He will. Trust me). Maybe you were worried about being judged for having a selfish toddler (which is an oxymoron – all toddlers are incredibly selfish. And no I wasn’t judging you.) Maybe you had other things that were on your mind too (don’t we all?) But I really want to say thank you, for being a dad with principles, for not being afraid of the wrath of your toddler. For teaching your toddler playground etiquette. I know there are so many dads and mums like you, all trying so hard to do the right thing, all risking a tantrum so you can teach your children how to get along with others. All carrying that playground anxiety. Thank you. I wish I could have empathised with you about toddlers and their behaviour. I wish I could have reassured you that it does pass, it’s just a phase, and that I understand. I wish I could have conveyed to you that we were going to work it out between the three of us, but you were too worried about your son’s behaviour.

And that makes you a really, really good dad. I hope you know that.

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By Beth Rankin [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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By Beth Rankin [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Beth Rankin [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
I was touched by all the responses to my post on pessimism, and inspired to find a better way. I promised I would report back if I did. So I went and bought yet another e-book – “The Optimistic Child” by Martin Seligman. (Amazon’s coffers are overflowing from my purchases, I can tell you!) And, upon reading about how to teach children to think like an optimist, I have been teaching myself to do the same. Because I strongly believe that children learn primarily by example. How can I model a healthy outlook on life to my children? How can I teach them better ways to look at the world and approach the inevitable daily bumps of life?

The first thing I learned was that optimism isn’t what I thought it was. It actually means believing that bad events happen because of temporary, local causes and good events from permanent, global causes. Optimism does not mean letting yourself off the hook for a mistake you’ve made; it identifies the specific cause of the mistake. For example, this is the internal dialogue that usually happens after I yell at my children:

I feel so awful for yelling. I’m such bad mother (believing in a global cause, not a temporary cause). Now my child will be traumatised forever and will be depressed and anxious as an adult (catastrophising). All because of me! Why can’t I ever control my temper? I’m an awful person and I’m so depressed. Did I mention I’m a really bad mother?”

The optimistic parent in me could say instead:

“I feel awful about yelling. I was tired and lost my temper. I shouldn’t have done that (Not shirking responsibility). I need to apologise to my child and explain that I shouldn’t have yelled at her (Making it right). It hurt her feelings and she’s upset now. It was probably very scary for a little child to be yelled at (Understanding the accurate consequence of my behaviour). What’s happening with me right now? Why did I yell? Oh yes. I’m tired right now, and hungry, and she was dawdling on the way out of daycare. I gave her a warning but I guess she is only four after all! I need to get us fed and we’ll all feel better after a warm shower and a cuddle. I should get more sleep tonight so this doesn’t happen again. I think I also need to go for a run because I’m been a bit irritable today”. 

As you can see, responding to my pessimism extends to many different parts of my life. My clinical work. (“I’m a terrible GP”). My PhD. (“I’m a hopeless student”.) The house. (“I suck at this housekeeping stuff”.) Even being a friend (“I’m a terrible friend”). The pervasive, global words are never, always, I am. I have been aware of the voice in my head for some years now but have only just begun to pick my thoughts apart.

I have only read half the book so I’m afraid I’m giving you only half, or perhaps just a few pieces, of the puzzle. And I am no psychologist so forgive me if I get some of this wrong. But so far I’ve found those simple concepts really helpful in my day-to-day life. I’m learning to challenge my overwhelmingly negative thoughts. For example, my habit of repeating to myself “I’m so exhausted all the time”. I’m changing this to “I’m feeling exhausted today” or “Lately I’ve been feeling exhausted”. It’s a more accurate representation of what is going on in my life, because I am certainly NOT exhausted ALL the time and it’s unhelpful to repeat that to myself. On the other hand, I’m not telling myself “I feel really energetic!” when I don’t feel that is true. I’m also challenging those “I’m a bad mother” moments. I know these happen to lots of mums and it can be crippling. Instead of thinking I’m a terrible mother, I am localising the problem (“I yelled at my daughter today”) and countering my pervasive bad-motherness by remembering the ways I am actually NOT a bad mother. Sometimes just the act of acknowledging this changes my mood immediately.

I am also attempting optimism in the ways I think about other people. You know, the damaging ways I apply pervasiveness to the behaviours of others, forgetting the good, the sunny, the wonderful parts of their personality. “He always infuriates me!” “She is ALWAYS whining”. “He never gives me a break!” Those sorts of really unhelpful, toxic thoughts. I change them to “He is annoying me today!” or “Gosh she is being really whiney right now!” Again, I feel immediately better because these are accurate representations of what is going on and I’m not discounting how I am feeling at this present moment, but I’m able to move beyond this temporary behaviour.

A strange thing has happened – I am enjoying my children a lot more. I have to confess that for a while I wasn’t really enjoying their company very much. Perhaps I was too stuck in my ways of pessimistic thinking. Who knows. But since making these simple changes to my thoughts, I have really sincerely enjoyed being with them, just playing, laughing, cuddling, watching them run around. I feel like I’ve been given a really great gift – actually enjoying being a parent again.

I’m continuing to read the book, notice the way I think, and practise changing it. I still have anxiety when I think about the future and all the things that might go wrong. I’m working on it though. Right now I’m focussing on dealing with each day as it comes – each and every day with its loveliness, its warmth, and its hope. It’s like I’m ready to catch these fleeting seconds of joy as they bob past me like bubbles or float past like feathers in the breeze. Some days I’m really good at this. Other days or moments, not so. But if I can teach my children how to do this too, or how not to stop doing this as they become buffed and polished by the realities of life, I will lie on my deathbed a very very happy woman.

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It’s Monday evening 9:30pm and I’ve just come back from the gym and had a shower. My day has felt full, very full, satisfying full but also exhaustingly so. I’ve fed my children, dressed them, kissed them goodbye, tackled a full day of data analysis, gone home to cook dinner, fed the… Oh, you all know what happens in a house with small children during our daily “peak hour”. After my four-year-old finally went to bed after insisting she needed another snack, another story, another snuggle, I dragged myself to the gym for a half-hour on the spin bike. On my way out, I started to feel that familiar sense of pity. “It’s so hard fitting everything in when you’re a working mother,” I said to myself, sounding very trite. “I just can’t do everything in one day. I can’t have it all”. And so on and so on until I suddenly stopped in my tracks. I was doing it again. I was blaming my children. For things. Things that may or may not be due to me being a mother. Some are and some aren’t. Some shouldn’t be blamed on parenthood at all, and some are definitely due to being a parent.

You see, as a GP I get the opportunity to talk to people from all stages of their life. Something that strikes me is the same conversation I keep having over and over again. It goes something like this

“Do you do any exercise?”

“No,” (sheepish look from patient). “I just can’t seem to fit it in.”

And you guessed it – it doesn’t matter if the patient has children or not. In fact, sometimes parents seem to take more action in terms of their physical health. People, not parents, struggle to find the time and energy to do the things they know they should. Anyhow, it struck me that there are some things I can (and will!) blame my children for, cheerfully, and some things that I resolve I will not blame them for. I want them to know I can prioritise what’s important for my own wellbeing, so that they can learn from me. Because my daughter said a very important thing to me today – “I’ll do what you do, Mummy”, meaning when she is an adult and has her own babies. And that only makes me want to manage my own health and happiness well so that she’ll have the tools to do the same when her own children come along, or better still, get into a good routine of self-care before she becomes a mother.

So here are the things I will and will not blame my children for. At least, on a good day. When I’ve had enough sleep. And chocolate. And coffee.

Things I can blame my children for

  1. Grey hairs
  2. Forgetting things (aka “Mummy Brain”)
  3. An obsession with sleep
  4. My “scary mummy” voice
  5. Inability to stop doing laundry
  6. Recurrent nightmares of being stuck on a ten-hour plane flight with a toddler
  7. Raucous behaviour when on a “night out” without the kids (okay, maybe I can’t blame them for this…)
  8. Having the theme song to “Octonauts” play over and over again in my head, or suddenly bursting out a ditty that goes “Book-aboo!! A story a day or I just can’t play!!”
  9. Sand all over my floor. (What is with that?!)

Things I will not blame my children for

  1. Being physically inactive.
  2. Poor food choices.
  3. Neglecting my relationship with my partner.
  4. Drinking too much alcohol.
  5. Staying up too late after the children have gone to bed and missing out on sleep.
  6. Being too hard on myself.
  7. Not following my dreams.
  8. Feeling negative.
  9. Not having fun.

What are some of the things you won’t be blaming your children for? What’s important to you that you will fight to preserve, in amongst the chaos and the time pressures? x

 

 

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By Intel Free Press [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Intel Free Press [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Intel Free Press [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
A recent article on HuffPo slammed the use of hand-held devices for kids and called for a complete ban. The article was sensationalist, and has been called out by a number of other authors, including in this very balanced reply. Here are my thoughts, as a mother, re the debate about “whether iPads are evil”.

These new digital tools are simply that – a tool. They encourage sedentary behaviour, yes. Does this lead to obesity? In some cases, yes, but in most cases, I believe they don’t encourage obesity inasmuch as reading books does or drawing does. If a child sits and draws or colours or does homework for hours, everyone praises her and says “What a good child!” but if that child is seen to be using a digital device, it’s automatically branded as a terrible thing.

One caveat here – I believe that developing motor skills is essential, and touchscreen use needs to be balanced with developing pencil skills, learning to throw a ball, generally running and climbing etc. Somewhere in the deep dark recesses of my mummy doctor brain I remember reading or hearing something about how these skills enhance literacy. So, limiting motor skills to wiggling your index finger around a touchscreen is not a great thing.

But, as the reply I have posted points out, the majority of families use iPads wisely, and children don’t spend all day with them. Children still enjoy using crayons, running around a playground, and reading physical books.

Technology bring a wide variety of positive experiences to families, including playing interactive games (such as the fantastic ones by Toca Boca like Toca Tea Party), learning the alphabet, learning how to read, laughing over YouTube videos of cats on Roombas together (something my four-year-old and I really enjoy doing). We also use technology as a learning tool. If our preschooler suddenly shows an interest in the solar system, for example, we’ll talk about the planets, find amazing websites for children that explain the solar system, and watch the YouTube video of the Solar System song. To facilitate this experience without technology, we would have to remember that she is interested in the solar system, make a trip to the library, and take home a few books about the planets which are probably out of date. Which of course is a very fine thing, and we still do visit libraries regularly, but my point is that learning can be enhanced with technology if used in the right ways.

Digital tools and technology are here to stay. Adults are at a disadvantage currently if they are not tech-literate, in terms of employment options. Learning how to navigate the new digital world and use the tools that technology provides is essential for children. We aren’t going back to the days of horse and cart and homing pigeons, ever. It’s a fact. But when I go to playgrounds, I still see loads of children running around, and parents enjoying the sunshine. All is not lost. Let’s use our own judgement here, and use our tools wisely.

Addendum. The author discloses no financial interests in Apple or any tech companies. Her children have inherited their “own” iPad, but this often sees weeks of disuse, although she admits to resorting to the use of Toca Band during long plane flights and tetchy moments in restaurants when the four-year-old is eating painfully slowly and the toddler wants to throw all the crockery on the floor. 

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I dream of the day when becoming a mother does not come with impossible expectations and an inevitable guilt trip.

I dream of an evolving view of motherhood that retains the tenderness and wish to nurture together with an honest recognition of the pressures of being a parent.

I dream of the day when new mothers are not told to “enjoy the newborn days – they go so quickly” but instead are told that amongst the difficult times there will be moments of magic to keep them going. A day when new mothers do not feel guilty for not enjoying the first weeks, months or even the first year of being a mother.

I dream of the day when women are no longer told that “the best place for them is to be at home with their children” and are told instead that the best place for them to be is wherever it is that they feel they should be.

I dream of the day when being a parent is not about spending all your time with your child, giving in to all their demands, and shielding them from all frustration and disappointment, but is instead about raising a child to be a decent human being, including developing the abilities to contribute to society, cope with difficult emotions, manage anger and sadness, empathise with fellow humans, and control impulses and delay gratification.

I dream of the day when becoming a mother is not all about breastfeeding, when there is support for mothers who were unable to continue breastfeeding and recognition that this beautiful function of our bodies does not always work out for everyone despite the best efforts.

I dream of the day when society recognises that becoming a mother does not automatically gift a woman with the infinite patience that a mother is reputed to have, and of the day when mothers learn to look after themselves first in order to be more patient with their children.

I dream of the day when being a good mother is not about creating elaborate artworks for school lunches, but is about instilling (by example) the values of respect for others, honesty, gratitude, a positive attitude, hard work, self-sufficiency, and nurturing relationships with others.

I dream of the day when being a mother is just one of the roles a woman may have, and that she has adequate time and energy to keep cultivating her other roles as well.

I dream of the day when removing the burden of  societal pressures and “mother guilt” frees women to become even better mothers than they were before.

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Photo credit: By Loadmaster (David R. Tribble)    This image was made by Loadmaster (David R. Tribble) Email the author:  David R. Tribble Also see my personal gallery at Google Picasa (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo credit: By Loadmaster (David R. Tribble) This image was made by Loadmaster (David R. Tribble) Email the author: David R. Tribble Also see my personal gallery at Google Picasa (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
We’re in a fairly challenging state of parenthood right now. We have a toddler and a preschooler. This may arguably be better than having an older toddler and a baby (actually, thinking about it, it’s definitely better) but we’re still stuck right in the middle of the bum-wiping, tantrumming, wanting to be carried, needing to sleep by 6:30pm, can’t sit still stage. It feels like we are incessantly caring for their needs in a very physical way. Sleeping, eating, toileting and dressing are still very much reliant on our help. And for the last few months we have declared this stage the “hibernation” stage – when it is beyond the laws of the Universe to take them out into public for a meal. Doing this is kind of like defying gravity – a futile exercise. At least they’re sleeping through – dear God, thank you!

Yet, there is something about the toddler years that make this my favourite stage of childhood and babyhood. Actually, many things. Babies are lovely but once my first baby turned into a toddler, I found other babies, well, boring. The occasional goo-goo-ga-ga paled in comparison to my toddler’s antics. Preschoolers are also lovely but they talk a lot and they have begun to take on the inhibitions of childhood and adulthood. But toddlers – oh they are a species in themselves. And when my toddler turns three, I’ll  be looking back with some relief but lots of fondness and sadness too. So here’s why I love toddlers.

1. They are cute.
Poddy bellies, chubby legs and round cheeks make for an adorable bundle. And there is nothing cuter than a very short little person waddling furiously around the house like there is no tomorrow. Especially if they are dressed in a onesie. Once children start to lose the roundness of the cheek and start to sprout gangly limbs, I feel an inexplicable wistfulness.

2. They (can be) super cheerful.

Except when they’re super grumpy, of course. But a lot of the time, toddlers bounce around like sunbeams (or like pogo sticks?) Ever cross eyes with a toddler that you don’t know only to be greeted with the biggest grin? Doesn’t that make your day?

3. They love cuddles.

Not only do they love cuddles, they NEED them, and demand them. And launch themselves at your legs in a warm heap just revelling in being right next to you. Leg hugs are the best!! (Extricating clingy toddlers from your leg is another matter, of course).

4. They don’t talk. Much. Yet.

This can be frustrating when they are having a tantrum because they can’t communicate their needs verbally. Honestly, one time my toddler was furiously pointing at the dinner table, but refusing everything we offered him that was in his line of sight. He was absolutely distraught with anger. To this day I still don’t know what he wanted. But, on the whole, having a toddler who only says “Mam!” or “Cheese!” or “More!” is a relief. They babble in their own language, and all you have to do is listen to the tunefulness, nod, and babble back. There is no brain action involved, unlike the “Why? Why? Why?” of preschoolers.

5. They have long afternoon naps.

There is a book called Naptime is the New Happy Hour. That says it all.

6. They find everything fascinating.

This can certainly slow you down, and is somewhat of a damper when you’re in a hurry, but a toddler notices everything – and never ceases to wonder at the little things. The stones on the sidewalk. The dustballs in the corner. Random twigs. The rubbish bin. They are always investigating. What’s in here? What does it do? Once I was in a meeting with a visiting researcher from Korea. I had to bring my toddler along. I was deep in conversation then looked down and realised she had emptied the contents of my handbag onto the floor, and was particularly interested in my feminine hygiene products. I tried to discreetly put everything back without my (male) colleague noticing, or laughing too much. That was the last time she accompanied me to an important meeting.

7. They love to dance.

Nothing is more endearing than a toddler spontaneously breaking out the dance moves. Mine once dropped everything to shake her booty to “Last Christmas” by Wham in a shopping mall. I filmed it but the video was incredibly shaky because I was laughing hysterically. Toddlers also love being at weddings and monopolising the dance floor, when they should be fast asleep.

8. They love to imitate.

How adorable is pretend play? Star was once obsessed with takeaway coffee cups. (It says a lot about my lifestyle!!) She had a collection of them at one stage and was never seen without one in her hand. She even pretended to be a barista one afternoon! Pretend play also gives us valuable insights into our behaviour with our children as mirrors, as you can see!

9. Their sense of joy is enormous.

As is their sense of rage and frustration, but the joy is just beautiful. When a toddler is happy, they are REALLY happy. Like, exploding out of their skin happy and excited. It’s almost frenetic. Your toddler’s face when he sees you after a separation, or when he is given ice-cream, is an example. When Star was two and I went to the kitchen to get her some ice-cream, she was jumping up and down, clapping her hands and squealing “Good girl mummy!!! Good girl!!” If only we could all be this enthusiastic about the enjoyable things in life. All too often we barely even notice the happy times, whereas toddlers simply throw themselves into life, good and bad. And the ice-cream.

10. They teach us to be Zen masters.

Yep, that’s right. Nothing like a toddler having an epic meltdown and you learning how to keep your cool to build your patience and self-soothing behaviours. Everything else after that is a piece of cake in comparison. If you can remain calm and retain your sense of humour during those inevitable, daily and repeated tests, you can do anything, in my opinion!

There is just something about toddlers that is incredibly special. Their no-holds-barred approach to life is admirable. Their innate duality (contentment followed by rage and tantrums all in one minute) teaches us that we have to embrace the totality of life – it may not be perfect, it has its challenging moments, but there is something beautiful and amazing about it at the same time. And the rate at which toddlers are learning is mind-blowing. There is something very humbling about watching a small child, transitioning in between babyhood and childhood, learning the basics of walking, running, eating, communicating, and controlling impulses. It’s a privilege I’m glad to be enjoying – despite tantrums, meltdowns, loud screaming and all (which I assure you are happening in large quantities in our household!!) :)

 

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By U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Erika N. Jones [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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By U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Erika N. Jones [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Erika N. Jones [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Last week I was in the middle of a consultation when I had the dreaded phone call from daycare. Fortunately not much was wrong, but one of the kids did need to be picked up and taken home. My patient then said something interesting to me:

“I thought doctor’s kids aren’t supposed to get sick!”

Just one of those things that people say, of course, not thinking much of it at all. I smiled and answered “Yes they do. Actually, my kids have chronic illnesses”. Not serious ones, not ones that cause them many symptoms, but chronic illnesses nonetheless. And we have the usual colds and gastro cases, sometimes a seemingly endless series of them, as many parents whose young children attend daycare centres experience. As it turned out, we had a cracker of a week with one child sent home with a rash, another unable to attend because of food poisoning, and a routine checkup at the Kids Hospital. Having a sick kid at home isn’t easy, but these illnesses always remind me of the many reasons why I think my kids fall ill occasionally. I think there are reasons, and that these are “learning opportunities” for me (I’m not always this Pollyanna-like about it I can tell you – there are some weeks when I get frustrated about taking so much time off!) but here are the reasons why I think it happens.

My kids get sick because:

I need to know what it’s like to keep vigil by a child’s bed overnight, listening to every cough, breath and whimper, feeling brows and checking diapers.

I need to know the agony of watching a child in pain and in distress. And then the joy of seeing a child bounce back from illness as though they never missed a beat.

I need to experience the relief of hearing the steady breathing and feeling the cool brow of a recovering child.

I need to know what it’s like to make an emergency trip to the hospital, to wait in crowded outpatient departments, to hand the care of my precious charge over to an anaesthetist and surgeon and walk out fighting back tears.

I need to be reminded that schedules can be cleared, meetings rescheduled, deadlines extended, and that life goes on while I am doing my most important job.

I need to know that in times of pain and illness, there is only ever one thing that soothes my children – me. That there is never a time that I am more of a mother than when they are ill. I can outsource and delegate so many other parts of my role – but not this one. To me, it has become an integral part of how I see my role as a mother.

I need to be reminded that when I am in survival mode, with everything stripped down to the absolute necessities – food, water, love, sleep – I learn, once again, what is truly important.

I need to be compassionate, not smug – to know that kids can get sick despite the best efforts of their parents, so I can connect with the tired parents who fill my rooms during winter and give them a reassuring smile.

I need to realise how much I love my kids – a fierce, deep, visceral love, a love that can stay up all night for days on end and perform other feats of superhuman strength.

 

Being a mother has made me a better doctor in infinite ways – and probably a better person too. Sickness and other challenges on our journey can be moments to reflect on where we are heading, and re-align with priorities. Responding to vulnerability with tenderness and compassion is one of the privileges of having children – and embracing this helps the frustration of falling behind with work and life melt away.

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sneezing

sneezingSo here it is, the onset of “snot season” in Australia. If you have small children who attend daycare, particularly if you have more than one, you might be bracing yourself for a long hard winter. Last year our household was hit hard, with months of green noses and many days spent at home with sick kids. I honestly couldn’t keep track of where one cold ended and another began; my two children seemed to share the love very easily (fortunately not with us!) We have asthma in our household too, so we have an extra reason to be anxious. But fear not – I have done my research on how to maximise the healthy, snot-free days, and keep those viruses away. I hope it will help your household too.

Preventing colds and flus

1. Handwashing. All. The. Time.

I’ve said it before and I won’t stop saying it – handwashing is the best defence against those germies. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not coughing into someone’s face that is the most infectious – it’s touching doorknobs, computer keyboards, phones etc that have been contaminated with nice festering viruses. Be scrupulous with hand-washing, carry alcohol sanitiser for when you can’t get to a tap, and disinfect surfaces and toys frequently. I know it’s hard to police in children, especially when they’re all sharing the petri dish called daycare, but anything you can do is a step in the right direction – including keeping yourself germ-free so you can look after those poor kidlets. GPs don’t get sick from all the coughing people that walk into their surgery because they wash their hands after every patient. You too can protect yourself – get thee to a sink!

2. Fight the germ wars with nice bacteria.

That’s probiotics to you – Lactobacillus rhamnosus, acidophilus and GG, and Bifidobacterium animalis to be exact. These lovely friendly bacteria  been shown to reduce the risk of getting coughs and colds, shorten the duration of colds, and reduce the number of sick days in preschoolers attending daycare.  We trialled Inner Health Plus last year, sadly we still had plenty of colds to keep us busy, and it’s hard to see how we could have had more sick days but… give it a go!

3. Vitamin D

Something we’re all lower in over winter, and which may partly account for the increased susceptibility to colds. Vitamin D has been shown to reduce the risk of getting the flu in school children. Vitamin D is best given with dinner or a meal. Also, don’t forget to send the kids outside whenever there is a sunny day too. Oh, and a trip to the tropics is a GREAT way to get those levels up! Doctor’s orders, ha ha!

4. Dose up on garlic

The evidence isn’t very strong, but garlic is safe when eaten as a food (at high doses it can cause thinning of the blood and bleeding problems). Sneak some garlic into your kids’ dinner (e.g. home made garlic bread or garlicky soup) and you might reduce the risk of them getting a cold.

Treating cold and flu symptoms

Vitamin C may reduce the duration of colds, as might zinc lozenges. Echinacea is controversial – it may only reduce cold symptoms by a small degree if taken immediately at the onset, and it can cause allergic reactions so beware (and it’s not suitable for children under 2 years). Honey (half-2 teaspoons) has been shown to decrease night time cough in preschoolers when given at bedtime. Garlic may also help reduce duration of colds – someone once told me to rub garlic over my baby’s feet and cover with warm socks! (Pungent!!) And mummy and daddy’s tender loving care go a long way as well :)

I hope that helps and I wish your family all the best for the onslaught. If you have any tried and true home remedies I would love to hear them! There are some other herbal remedies like andrographis and ginseng which have some evidence to support their use, but their safety is largely unknown especially in children, and I usually hesitate to recommend herbs in children unless they have been studied extensively. Good luck and may the Force be with you this winter :)

 

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/oddharmonic/2240492703/

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